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This morning’s Microsoft E3 press conference gave us much to ponder, much to anticipate and possibly much to fear. Which announcements fit into which of those categories? Read on for my personal impressions of the event, as well as thoughts from the Editor-in-Chief of Official Xbox Magazine, Francesca Reyes.
Well that was a long time coming. After nearly four years of Halo prequels and spinoffs, Master Chief is finally returning to Xbox 360… with two games, no less. A remake of Combat Evolved has been semi-confirmed for months now, but seeing the comparison between outdated 2001 graphics and crisp, detailed 2011 graphics was still a treat. Let’s just pray they “reimagined” the Library level as well.
The biggest news of the press conference, however, was Halo 4. It’s happening, it’s releasing Holiday 2012 and it’s the start of a brand new trilogy. Based on the trailer, the story will pick up where the original trilogy left off, with Master Chief awakening from his years-long (possibly centuries- or millennia-long) cryogenic slumber to cries of help from Cortana. The short action sequence that follows is much more gritty, visceral and realistic-looking than the usual Halo, with our hero jetpacking through a burning husk of a ship while shooting off the hip with his pistol. I know this is a cutscene and not actual gameplay, but I was reminded strongly of Dead Space 2. With 343 Industries at the helm instead of Bungie, will the series adapt a new style or direction? After the good-but-not-amazing ODST and Reach, I’d welcome some change.
Gears of War 3 is one of my most anticipated games of E3 2011, and of 2011 in general, but the stuff that creator Cliff Bleszinski showed off at this morning’s press conference didn’t wow me. Marcus and company are attacked by a massive sea monster while trying to escape the Locust on a COG warship. Sounds cool, right? It was, but no cooler than the massive sea monster battle in Gears of War 2 – even the weak points (shoot it in the eyes!) seemed the same. Marcus was able to take advantage of the new Silverback mech suits, though, taking cover behind the machine that one of his co-op buddies had piloted into the fray. If only we’d seen him jump in the mech himself.
Hopefully, tomorrow’s Gears 3 demo and after-hours event will hit me harder. Watch for further coverage.
I was worried about both of these franchises – Modern Warfare’s no longer in the trusted hands of developer Infinity Ward, and Tomb Raider is a complete reboot. After today’s gameplay demos, however, I’m convinced neither will disappoint. The mission shown from Modern Warfare 3 was one of the craziest, best-paced, most cinematic things I’ve experienced in the series thus far – starting with a stealthy scuba dive through the harbor of New York City, transitioning seamlessly into a close-quarters shootout through the decks of a Russian submarine and climaxing with a boat chase that featured high-speed driving, slow-motion shooting and screen-shaking explosions. This is classic Modern Warfare.
Tomb Raider, meanwhile, is anything but classic. This feels very different and very refreshing. Lara is younger, yes, but also more likeable and more vulnerable, talking to herself nervously through dangerous traps and deadly injuries. The environments are darker and scarier, with intense scripted sequences (unexpected falls, pursuing madmen) everywhere. Part Uncharted, part Condemned, part Indiana Jones, part Descent… now I just need confirmation that the new Tomb Raider is still, in some ways, Tomb Raider. Show me the wide, open environmental puzzles or the trademark acrobatics – even if it’s later in the game, when Lara has learned a few tricks – and I’ll be happy.
Silly rabbit! You hoped, a year after Cirque du Soleil, Joy Ride and Skittles, that Microsoft might have refocused on the hardcore adult gamer? I’m afraid not. Half of 2011’s press conference was dedicated to motion control and the majority of that was dedicated to children.
Disneyland Adventures is a virtual recreation of the beloved amusement park, with Kinect Adventure-like minigames in place of actual rides – a neat idea, but how many of us will want to play a Peter Pan themed coin collecting minigame more than once? Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster oozes that Tim Schafer / Double Fine charm, but he’s clearly designed the game primarily for his three year-old daughter and not for fans of Psychonauts or Grim Fandango. Kinect Fun Labs is a collection of honestly impressive tech tools with real potential for real games – scan any object, including yourself, into a 3D doppelganger on the screen – but is currently being used to recreate stuffed toys or paint sparklers around people’s arms.
To be fair, these games appear to be excellent entertainment for kids, or parents wanting to play games with their kids – that couldn’t be said for 99% of what released on the Nintendo Wii. The fact that Microsoft now seems intent on the 360 being the better Wii, however, is terrifying.
Also terrifying? Child actors paid to pretend like they’re having fun.
Next page: So much Kinect it hurts